Clan Donald Magazine No13 (1995) Online
The 1993 Great Galley
by Edwin H. "Ned" Henry,
Although this article
deals with just the sailing portion of our "great galley adventure,"
our wives and other Clan Donald couples
members became an integral
part of our unique ancestral experience as well. Enjoying all the
amenities offered a land tour, they still went the "extra mile" to
rendezvous with us every two to three days. The timing by land and
by sea was crucial, taking hours of decisive planning by Doug and Maj-Britt Murdock and Marion and Rob McDonald Parker.
The morning of 9th June
1993 we had our first real glimpse of the galley. The past eight
months of planning and rowing machine workouts were over and we were
finally dockside with "her." After stowing all gear, some basic
rowing instructions from our head oarsman, Cameron MacDonald (NY)
and a few practice strokes with the oars we were eager to begin our
journey. However our Captain, Wallace Clark, had different ideas
since only a few crewmembers had any sailing experience at all and
clearly not with this type of vessel. Our inexperience was of great
concern to him and since he already had two major voyages on the
"Aileach" under his belt, we found ourselves in the Sound of Sleat
practising once again. With him on the two previous voyages were our
first mate, Andrew Rodgers and second mate and cook, Kevin O'Leary
and they, too, shared the Captain's concern for our ability and
Since balance between
length, weight and bodies was key in the handling of the oars, we
first tried five oars per side, then four, then three. Settling on
three oars we found we would have enough speed to manoeuvre in and
out of harbours and narrow channels. The cramped conditions on the 40
foot by 10 foot replica galley limited any social movement and meant
that we would have to stay at our assigned stations. The oar
stations were six to a side with a leg well and a hard board seat to
sit on, facing aft. Under the seat we had just enough room to store
our individual foul weather gear which was donned often. The small
deck at the bow provided a lookout station and storage for the
ship's gear, the cook's utensils and our food. During wet weather
canvas tarps were strung up at the bow to provide a protected
tent-like cooking area. The stern deck was just large enough to
provide a storage area for the small air-tight /waterproof barrels
(one barrel per two men) which held our
extra clothing, bare
The steering station was directly at
the stern post with a wide seat big enough for two men in case extra
strength was needed on the tiller (a wish bone shaped steering
mechanism) during rough weather. One could certainly understand that
with the cramped conditions, it was extremely difficult to pass
around the 12-14 foot oars without knocking someone in the head
during the process!
Finally Capt. Clark
yelled, "Galley Ho," and with our hearts pounding and filled with
excitement, we put our backs into the oars, trying hard to keep the
rhythm of our head oarsman.
We hardly noticed the
waving crowd on the dock or leaving Armadale for that matter.
Captain Ranald of Clan Ranald, who had spent many hours with Captain
Clark plotting the voyage, had sailed on his yacht and was part of
our entourage as we left Skye and headed for the Isle of Eigg... the
"Aileach," the RIB (ridged
/ rubber inflatable boat, which was our
support throughout the whole journey) and Capt. Ranald's yacht.
Acclimating to the
weather, the oar strokes and the discomfort of cramped
quarters, we began the
realization of where we were and what we were accomplishing. It was
an overwhelming feeling to be sailing the Inner Hebrides, just as
our ancestors had done with Somerled and the other Lords of the
Isles over 500 years ago ... retracing the seaway roads of one of
the most notable sea kingdoms in history.
Schellenberg, met us at the quay on Eigg in his vintage Rolls Royce
Estate Wagon while the interesting house guests, gathered at his
mansion, provided spirited conversation during a "welcoming" party
for us and later, a beach cookout that was held in Cathedral Cave,
the cave where nearly 400 MacDonalds had been slaughtered by the
MacLeods. The hospitality shown us, particularly on the islands was
remarkable. The local people did not know us personally but it did
not matter, we were Clan Donald and they treated us like family.
Ardnamurchan and west of Mull we hit gusty winds. Being without the
RIB , which had gone into Mull for refuelling and supplies, caused
some concern and so the "Aileach" took refuge, rowing swiftly into
Cairnburgh. This small island was once a galley fort for the Lords
of the Isles dating back to the twelfth century and offered the crew
shelter from the winds and fast tide. Making an unscheduled stop on
this abandoned island was exciting but very eerie as well.
As we approach the Isle
of Staffa it was decided to try our hand at rowing the "Aileach"
into Fingal's Cave. Mendelssohn's Hebridean Overture echoed off the
walls, coming from Doug Murdock's tape player, as we passed through
the 80 foot columns along the narrow entrance of the cave, while we
mastered the surging waves 5 to 10 feet high ... it was our first
real test of "togetherness!"
The Chapel bell was
ringing, announcing Evensong, as we made our way to the pier on lona.
It was twilight and the wind had died, the water was calm and it was
very quiet. The stroke of the oars kept beat with Andrew Rodger's
pipe tune as he played standing in the bow. Driving the RIB, I
backed its twin 40's down to just above an idle not wanting to take
away from this magical setting... a mist in the air, the "Aileach"
with a slow piper's beat to the oars, all within sight of the
ancient cathedral on the hillside gave me a strange feeling, like I
had been here hundreds of years ago. No mistakes this time, our
seamanship was beginning to show. The crowd of local residents and
tourists watched in disbelief as our galley longboat tied up in the
harbor. Some of the crew found a Bed 'n Breakfast for the night
while the rest "camped-out" on the beach. Leaving Iona the next day
with the afternoon tide we headed for Islay and again, we hit bad
weather and had to hole-up at Colonsay for the night with more Clan
Our course, sailing past
the Paps of Jura and south along the eastern coast of Islay, brought
us to the harbor at Port Askaig and the hotel. We were treated to an
outdoor bar-b-que and introduced forthe first time to
Bunnahabhain Distillery provided lodging and a tour of their
distillery, not to mention making us famous with several photo
The wind and tide were
against us as we prepared to leave Islay but by putting gusto into
our rowing (and a towrope from the RIB) we cleared the harbor and
caught the wind south heading toward Fraoch Eilean, the ancient home
of Somerled. As we passed the ruins two lookouts were posted to spot
dangerous rocks and we slowed to an easy drift as the water became
very shallow. The quiet was ever so apparent when the RIB cut her
engines and the same stillness came over us that we had experienced
and our imaginations were on springboards. We could invision
the Viking/pirate long boats coming around the point and we
"feel" them ... where was Somerled
when we needed him? We pushed eastward hoping to reach West Loch
Tarbert before the tide went out. An occasional eye scanned the
waters behind us, watching for that Viking fleet! As we were passing
the west side of the Isle of Gigha, one of our crew members spotted
a strange form on the horizon and out came the binoculars for
a better look.
We were startled to see that the strange form was a submarine with
its crew topside, looking at us. We wonder what they were thinking
as they viewed our ancient looking vessel. At any rate, it gave us a
slightly uneasy feeling and brought us back to reality ever so
of the ancient
legend of 1098 AD, and of Magnus Barelegs, King of Norway, who had
his galley portaged overland, crossing the Isthmus of Kintyre, so
that he could claim the land as his own. The crew of the "Aileach"
made ready to re-enact
that same overland portage. With the help of twenty Royal Scots Army
Guards, two tractors and several local volunteers, we tugged, pulled
and even broke a line but finally hauled the galley out of the water
and onto a trailer. This tractor-pulled trailer then paraded the
"Aileach" through town with Captain Clark at the helm, just like
Magnus Barelegs. Bunnahabhain was there with their "sample" table,
making the midges almost bearable. Later that day we travelled by
coach to Glenbarr Abbey where Laird and Lady Glenbarr, Angus and
Jean MacAlister, graciously welcomed us to the Clan MacAlister
Centre. We also visited Saddell Abbey, and then travelled to
Finlaggan where the Finlaggan Trust and Bunnahabhain hosted us for a
wonderful luncheon. The Finlaggan Trust had arranged a ceremony in
Gaelic on Eilean Mor that was very moving as we stood in the misty
rain listening. We sailed out
of East Loch
Tarbert the next day heading for Bute.
Isle of Bute and Rothesay harbor were bustling with boats and
tourists as the Galley stroked its way through the narrow opening in
the harbor basin. Many willing hands on the dock waited anxiously to
be asked to help tie up our ancient looking ship. The excitement of
the harbor carried on through the evening as we were treated to a
marvellous and elegant banquet in the upper hall of Rothesay Castle.
It was the first time a banquet had been served there since the 16th
Leaving Rothesay we sailed toward Port Glasgow. A good current and a
light breeze kept us on course and, again, the misty rain set the
stage for us all to reflect-on the past two weeks. We tied up for
the last time in a quiet slip at Renfrew. With tired bodies, we
quietly gathered our gear, climbed the iron ladder at the pier, gave
"her" one last look and then headed for the waiting taxis that would
take us to our hotel for the night.
next morning found all crew members of the "Aileach" holding the
oars like banners, marching in step with the Pipe band to our
assigned positions on the Glasgow dock for the Galley ceremony.
Speeches were plentiful (Lord Provost's staff, Capt. Clark, Doug
Murdock, and Capt. Ranald) and ... Bunnahabhain was there for the
last time to help with the "toasting." Capt. Ranald summed it up
this way ... "by being here to celebrate the 500th anniversary of
the Forfeiture of the Lordship of the Isles, we are not only
strengthening our ties with Clan Donald, but we arc making a
spiritual bond with the past."
Sailing the Inner Hebrides, in a replica galley for two weeks, my
shipmates and I understood what Capt. Ranald meant! It was an
incredible adventure bringing together twelve men of various ages
and vocations but all of a common thread ... Macdonald blood. Within
this short period of time we had gotten to know the best in each
other, but more importantly, we had experienced an
appreciation for the life and style of our ancestors and the Lords
of the Isles. We had made a tangible re-enactment
of our past and in so doing we made our own history as well.
Clan Donald USA 1993 Great Galley Voyage crew members were: Douglas
Murdock (CA), Donald MacDonald (CA), Alan MacDonald (CA), Mark
MacDonald (TX), Donald Macdonald (CO), Edwin "Ned" Henry (MN),
Robert McWilliam (WI), Clark McSparren (PA), Terry Jones (PA), Tom
Ruddy (PA), Cameron MacDonald (NY), and Douglas K. Macdonald (NH).
"PREPARE TO GIVE WAY, GIVE WAY TOGETHER."
Link to The
Lord of the Isles Galley
Trust with photos of the Ailech.
If you have any comments, additions or corrections to this article,
please post them in the forum as a new thread
here. Please make the title of your post the title of the
article and put a link back to the article in your post. You will
have to register to join the forum.